Family Court hosts annual Teen Day event to help kids in foster care
The Kings County Family Court hosted its annual Teen Day event on Wednesday, where the court shuts down the eighth floor and invites a group of Brooklyn teenagers in the foster care system to come in for advice, resources, lunch and even clothes.
“The one thing to understand is that the people in this room — the volunteers, the professionals, the judges, clerks and court officers — were once teens and they have been through the good times and the bad times,” said Robert Ratanski, clerk of court. “We all need a little help at times. Life’s experiences are one of the best teachers to all of us and you have so much life experience in this room here today to help you guys get through whatever you need.”
The court brought in a total of 19 agencies including Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC, Fostering Youth Services Alliance, Junior League of Brooklyn, the Police Athletic League of NYC and many others. It also brought in a group of young adults who had been through the foster care system to speak with the teenagers including Jim Saint Germain, Demetrius Johnson, Michelle Diaz and Jonathan Valerio.
“Our panel speakers are very interesting and accomplished guests that have had their own interactions with the family court system,” said supervising Judge Amanda E. White. “They’ll be sharing their stories and journeys with us today.”
This was actually Saint Germain’s third appearance speaking in the family court. His first appearance was two years ago at a Law Day event. He gave such a moving speech on that day that he was invited back to Teen Day last year and then again this year.
“I first met Jim when he and I were both on a panel together a few years ago,” said Judge Jacqueline Dean. “I was so incredibly impressed with not only the substance of what he had to say, but also his passion and poise. He is such an inspiration that there is a judge in this courthouse who, I hear rumors, that he regularly tells his tale to help to inspire other kids who come before her in court.”
Saint Germain and his panel discussed a few topics including who made the biggest impact in their lives, their education and how they would improve the foster care system. All of the panelists stressed the importance of education in successfully transitioning from the system to life on their own.
“Education is really the key,” said Johnson, who returned for his second Teen Day event this year. “There is a negative connotation attached to you when you come from foster care. Education is the key to overcoming that. Now when people meet me, they are surprised that I’m a part of the system.”
Germain stressed that the important part of the day is for the kids currently in the system to not just have a negative association with the court system, and added that the resources it provides can be critical to their future success.
“I met a lot of great individuals that extended a hand to me and showed me love and showed me that I was worth something,” Germain said. “I was shown a different path, a better path, and I took advantage of that and never looked back. I understand that the court is a place where we come to when we’re in trouble so a day like today can show us that the court can do a lot more than just adjudicate cases.”
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